Why Your Success Might Make You Depressed
For the winners who feel like losers.
Before we get started, you might notice that the newsletter now has a new name.
I’ve got an exciting little announcement…
My newsletter is…
Dun dun duuuuunnnn…
Just kidding. We’re rebranding.
See, when I started this newsletter, I had literally no idea what I wanted to call it, what I wanted to write about in it, or even what my goal was with it. I started it kind of on a whim, and I’ve been making things up as I go along.
The new name hit me the other day, and I think that this new name fits the newsletter better than the previous newsletter.
Nothing changing in terms of content or structure, but we’re just going to be using a new name for the newsletter going forward.
Welcome to The Grappler’s Diary. :)
If I had to choose between winning and losing, I’d choose to win every single time.
It’s more fun to get your hand raised after a match than it is to watch the other guy get his hand raised. It’s more fun to get a gold medal than it is to get a medal that’s any other color. It’s more fun to get paid than it is to watch someone else get paid.
However, success in anything that you do in this life feels like a double-edged sword.
When I’m entrenched in the quest of chasing my goals, my mental health can be more erratic than Bitcoin.
For those of us who struggle with anxiety and depression, this balance can be a challenge that not many people are able to relate to. Learning to manage your mind through the ups and downs of difficult personal endeavors is crucial to longevity.
Without a consistent mental approach to get through ups and downs, even your greatest wins will not sustain you.
This year has been crazy.
In early April of this year, I took 4th place in one of the largest grappling tournaments in North America.
That was just the beginning of what would be one of the most exciting months of my little life.
Less than10 days after that crazy event in Vegas was over, I re-injured my herniated L5 vertebrae, and I went from being motivated to keep competing and proving my skills to being unable to bend over to tie my shoe laces.
10 days and a full dose of Prednisone after that injury, I competed again, and I knocked off a well-established black belt in the finals of a tournament in Minnesota to win $5000. In just a month, I had 2 of the best performances of my career thus far, along with overcoming a pretty significant injury.
I felt like I could do anything.
I felt like all my hard work was finally paying off, and best of all, my luck wasn’t over yet.
7 years of training (not to mention 6 years of wrestling before that), and all of a sudden, I was a black belt. Not to mention, I was also supposed to be one of the top up-and-coming no-gi grapplers on earth. I had gone from being a complete nobody in Jiu-Jitsu to ranked in the top 20 on FloGrappling.com— the Jiu-Jitsu world’s primary media source.
Not that I’m “famous”, but competing at this level has been my goal ever since I was 19. It felt like everything was finally coming to fruition.
However, these achievements didn’t come without consequences.
Physically, my body was feeling worn and broken down. Mentally, I was struggling to sleep, too anxious to rest, and I was barely able to sit still long enough to work on anything.
This “amazing April” set the stage for a challenging May.
Burnout is a complicated creature.
You’d think after having all this success and attention in April that I’d be perfectly happy with my life, but the truth is that during the latter stages of this period, all I really wanted was a break.
I thought that I wanted a vacation, so after competing in another tournament in Europe in early May, I scheduled a vacation in Europe for a week and a half.
I thought that this would help me heal my injuries and rest my mind, but in reality, going on vacation didn’t make me feel much better.
Instead, I went from feeling overwhelmed because I was doing too much to feeling overwhelmed because I wasn’t doing anything.
All I want to do is win, but in terms of managing my health, I couldn’t.
I came back from my fancy European vacation on the Amalfi Coast thinking that I was about to be just as motivated as I was before April, but instead, I came back feeling just as exhausted as before. Within a few weeks, I was stepping past the burnout stage of exhaustion, and I was starting to feel depressed and anxious.
I had to do something.
I’m trying to learn to detach. It’s hard.
The world around us is achievement-driven.
You’re supposed to strive for your goals because these goals help you elevate your status in the social hierarchy and help give your life purpose. You’re supposed to view yourself as a product, and you’re supposed to mold that product into the best possible version.
However, the problem with this way of thinking is that your perception of your life becomes correlated to your achievements. Your work ethic becomes your identity.
You start to expect fulfillment from your accomplishments, when in reality, there’s more to a fulfilling life than winning medals, making money, or gaining notoriety through what you do.
After doing some deeper research, I found out that this is something that a lot of people in competitive fields like business or sports struggle with. Specifically, it’s very common for athletes to struggle with depression after experiencing the highs of exciting competition.
After a competition, an athlete’s depression, fatigue, and confusion metrics increase. The brain cannot handle constant excitement, and depression is how it reacts to being overwhelmed.
A lot of times, it doesn’t even matter what result you achieve in a particularly exciting event. The excitement alone is enough to shock your brain into a funk.
Closing Thoughts: Is There a Solution?
So now that we know that success (especially when it’s in intense bursts) can make you depressed, what are we supposed to do about it?
Should we just stop trying to succeed? Should we just abandon the pursuit of success altogether? Should we stop caring about our results and are abilities?
To put it bluntly — sort of.
But the key isn’t to stop striving, the key is to learn to develop a mindset where short-term success (or failure) doesn’t affect you to the point where you are living off of the dopamine you get from an exciting event. The key is to develop a routine and lifestyle that is so sustainable that it can survive both your greatest victories and your most agonizing defeats.
If you live for the win on Saturday night, you’re going to feel like crap on Monday morning, when the crowd has gone home and everyone’s forgotten your name.
The most important thing that you can do is to find a support system that functions effectively when you’re on top — and when you’re not. You don’t need a “team”, you need a sense of family. You don’t need a goal, you need a sense of purpose in your life.
This was something that I was trying to cultivate before my “April to remember”, but I realize now that my efforts were too little, too late. I was looking for sustainability through a lifestyle that I couldn’t sustain.
Without awareness of how your efforts impact your brain chemistry, you risk remaining a slave to the unpredictable dopamine highs and lows of “the grind”.
Happiness lies on the other side of emotional attachment to your results.
“To be even-minded is the greatest virtue.” — Heraclitus
This week on premium…
This week in the premium section, I wrote a letter to my 18-year-old self.
If you’d like to read that out, you can click the link below.
I really excited for the next few weeks on the premium side. I have 2 guest contributors scheduled, along with a few new article formats that we haven’t used yet.
Make sure you click that subscribe button to stay updated on all the premium content.
Till next time,